Analysis: Newcastle need Fabricio Coloccini on pitch – not in a Jesmond pub

Georginio Wijnaldum in action
Georginio Wijnaldum in action

While Newcastle United’s players were on the pitch at Bramall Lane, Fabricio Coloccini was having a more sedate Sunday afternoon 138 miles away.

A leisurely Coloccini, such an unhurried player at his best, was yesterday spotted out in Jesmond.

Coloccini’s absence did nothing to dispel speculation about his future, which could well lie away from St James’s Park.

But just when will he again be spotted in a black and white shirt?

Coloccini, according to head coach Steve McClaren, wasn’t involved against Sheffield United because of the Achilles problem that also sidelined him on the club’s USA tour.

And the 33-year-old has just two games left in which to prove his fitness for the season-opener against Southampton on August 9.

Coloccini’s absence, however, did nothing to dispel speculation about his future, which could well lie away from St James’s Park.

Previously, Coloccini was not been for sale, given his importance to former manager Alan Pardew, linked with a move for him at Crystal Palace.

That no longer appears to be the case, though McClaren maintains that he wants to see him back on the pitch in a Newcastle shirt – sooner rather than later.

Those players handed jerseys at Bramall Lane yesterday acquitted themselves well for 45 minutes, but the team’s performance unravelled after the break, when McClaren felt they were jaded in the wake of their trans-Atlantic trip.

McClaren, having studied Newcastle’s games last season, has been keen for his team to take control of matches.

They played from the back and moved the ball well, though chances were at a premium. Newcastle, captained by Daryl Janmaat in the absence of Coloccini, were positive and patient on a heavy pitch at a soggy Bramall Lane, where they were backed by 2,000 fans.

Vurnon Anita and Jack Colback took the ball from the back four, and there were few of the aimless long balls forward which punctuated games last season.

Papiss Demba Cisse struck the post with an early chance, and Wijnaldum put another effort wide

Wijnaldum seized on the loose ball after goalkeeper George Long slid in to stop a shot from Papiss Demba Cisse, who had latched on to a backpass. The strike took Wijnaldum’s tally to two goals from two games, the midfielder having scored on his debut against Portland Timbers earlier in the week.

Newcastle couldn’t replicate their first-half performance.

The Blades cut through the visiting defence and Marc McNulty rolled the ball through the legs of the exposed Krul.

Siem de Jong was among the substitutes, and the forward scored from close-range at the back post after Cisse flicked on a corner from Colback.

Kieron Freeman, however, levelled for the home side with three minutes left on the clock.

There were positives for McClaren – Wijnaldum, played behind Cisse, being the obvious one – and there were some solid-enough performances before the break against a spirited and enterprising League One team.

Wijnaldum, certainly, looks up to speed, and seems a likely starter against Southampton along with the likes of Janmaat, Krul, Colback, Moussa Sissoko, Steven Taylor and Haidara.

But if Coloccini isn’t fit, then who will partner Taylor in the heart of McClaren’s defence?

As it stands, Newcastle need Coloccini.

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long; Freeman, Collins (Morgan, 87), McEveley (Wallace, 85), McFadzean; Woolford (Campbell-Ryce, 46), Basham (Wallace, 75), Baxter (Reed, 69), Murphy (Scougall, 58); McNulty (Done, 60), Adams (Sammon, 60). Subs not used: Willis, di Girolamo, Calvert-Lewin

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul; Janmaat, Williamson, Taylor (Lascelles, 69), Haidara; Anita (Obertan, 58), Colback (Gouffran, 88); Sissoko (Abeid, 80), Wijnaldum (De Jong, 73), Perez (Aarons, 46); Cisse (Armstrong, 80). Subs not used: Darlow, Satka.

Goals: Wijnaldum 40, McNulty 49, de Jong 79, Freeman 87

Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire)

Attendance: 12,002